Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879), Like a River Glorious
by Terry Conley
Frances Ridley Havergal, daughter of the Rev. W. H. Havergal, was born at Astley, Worcestershire, England, December 14, 1836. Her father, Rev. W. H. Havergal, was a vicar and a hymn writer. The name Ridley came from her Godfather, W. H. Ridley, Rector of Hambleden, who was descended from Bishop Ridley, the martyr. She was nicknamed “Little Quicksilver,” because she was bright, quick, and clever. She possessed gifted intelligence and was reading at age three. Her mother, Jane, died when she was 11 years old and she was sent to various boarding schools. Intelligent and educated, her life was characterized by a deep, earnest consecration to Jesus. In August 1850, she entered Mrs. Teed’s school. In the following year her diary says, ” I committed my soul to the Savior, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.” She was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral, July 17,1853. She died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, June 3,1879, at the age of 43 years. Her epitaph, as she requested, reads “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin”.
Frances’ scholastic achievements were many including several modern languages together with Greek and Hebrew. She did not claim to be an achieved writer or poet but allowed God to use her distinct individuality to serve her God and Savior. Simply and sweetly she wrote of the love of God and His way of salvation. She dedicated her whole life to this end. Her writings are permeated with her passionate love of Jesus. The burden of her writings is a free and full salvation, through the Redeemer’s merits, for every sinner who will receive it. Her life was devoted to the proclamation of this truth by personal labors and her writing.
She wrote many devotional books and hundreds of hymns and poems. Her religious views are clearly stated in her poems with the main emphasis being a free and full salvation offered through the Savior for every sinner who will receive it. Favorite hymns of hers include Who is on the Lord’s Side, Lord Speak to me, and Take My Life and Let It Be. One of Miss Havergal’s best known hymns was written shortly before her death in 1879. In one of her last letters to a friend who was struggling with life’s issues, she quoted from Romans 5:1 – “We have peace with God” and went on to say it was perfect peace. Frances was still struggling in her personal life with the results of an earlier bout with typhoid fever. It was during this time of distress that she felt that the Lord gave her the thoughts that were eventually written as the hymn Like A River Glorious. She noted that she was burdened by the fact that she could not do all she desired for her God and Savior but that she felt God’s love and power sweep over her while she prayed for those around her. She wrote: “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace, over all victorious in its bright increase. Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest, finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”
A Dictionary of Hymnology; John Julian; Dover Publications, 1907, New York
The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church Hymnary; John Brownlie, D.D.; Henry Frowde, Publisher OUP, 1911; London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
The Romance of Women Hymn Writers; F. W. Pitt; Fundamental Truth Publishers, Findlay, Ohio